U-Turn CanyonU - Turn Canyon is one of the easiest technical canyons in Arches National Park, near Park Avenue area. It is well suited for beginners, scrambling and rappels are easy. Do not expect any narrow canyon/slot here, it has more open feeling. The views especially over La Sal Mountains and down into Park Avenue are amazing.
The route involves class 3 scramble (possibly a few class 4 moves), and four rappels. Our guide book wrote to expect 2-4 hrs of time, but we completed this in 1.5 hrs (party of 2) at what felt like a very leisurely pace.
Arches National Park tends to get crowded during the tourist season, and explorations such as this provide a different view of the national park - not a place where an average tourist ventures. U-Turn Canyon name is because of the U-turn shape of your route. Google search revealed tons of website and videos…This canyon is a popular one.
ACA Raging: 3A
Rappels: 4 (could be less if down climbing some: 1 and 3).
Time Required: 2-4 hrs (could be much faster)
Length: 1.5 miles
Season: year round (hot in the summer).
Flash Danger: low
Getting ThereU Turn Canyon Trailhead
is a well signed Park Avenue trailhead approximately 3 miles inside the Arches National Park on the left side of the road. Park here. This is the same trailhead used for other canyons in the area: Tierdrop Canyon and Not Tierdrop Canyon.
The trail is visible from the road (I have noticed it on the drive to the parking).
Arches National Park is located just a few miles north from Moab
, well marked turn off from US Highway 191.
GPS co-ordinates are for the true start of the canyon (not the trailhead - trailhead is a well marked Park Avenue).
From the Park Avenue Trailhead, walk back on the main road about 50 meters. There is a small trail along the road, which initially parallels the road and then turn away from road towards cliffs and hidden ascent gully. As you get closer, you will get a better view of the ascent gully on your right. The trail is well worn and easy to follow. The gully is the only obvious place to climb the mesa (the remainder are steep sandstone walls).
Scramble up this gully with a few little climbing moves, it is not very exposed and felt fairly easy. Soon, you will reach the top - stop and admire the views!
One on the top of this sandstone gully, do not descend into the small bowl but take a turn right = east staying on the slick rock ridge (Tierdrop and Not Tierdrop canyons would be to the left). Go slightly right on slick rock wide ridge towards a little dome. Bypass this dome on the left on a wide ledge. Immediately, you will see the second dome. It is easy to scramble up and cross to the left (no more than 3rd class). U-Turn Canyon is just behind this dome.
Behind the second dome, is the start of the U-Turn Canyon. There is a low angle slick rock between two smaller domes. Down climb easy slab to a couple of boulders. There is a single bolt underneath the smaller boulder on your right (looking down the canyon). You can use it to do your first rappel, or if feeling comfortable, down climb this section (there are a few climbing moves just below the sandy floor).
Walk just a little down canyon and there is immediately 2nd rappel. I had to look a little for anchors. I followed the watercourse and saw rope lines in the sandstone suggesting that previous route went straight down here and the route was rappelled from a boulder above. Do not use this boulder. There was also an obvious place with bolt, which was removed. Good anchors are above this and accessible from above - left side of the canyon. Walk slightly back and around large boulders to easily access this new 2 bolt anchor with webbing.
Continue downwards and canyon soon opens with amazing views of Park Avenue. Veer down and then left (small trail visible) to find anchors for your 3rd rappel. We found anchor on a large boulder as seen on the photo below (green sling). Again, this is very low angle rappel and could be down climbed.
Follow a small trail down and then again left for the last and the only interesting rappel. You have two options here - we first found a rappel down into a corner from a sling and used this one. Once down, we waited for the 2nd party coming after us, and they used a different rappel.
Rappel 1: easier, from a sling boulder with blue webbing, only about 20 meters long. Slightly awkward to drop into it, but much easier rap once inside the corner/groove.
Rappel 2: located more on the right side (looking down the canyon right) from 2 bolts next to a large boulder. This rappel is longer and steeper, 70 meter rope required for this one (at least the party used 70 meter rope and did not have much left, possibly 60 may be enough with some rope extension during rappel).
Once done with rappels, follow cliff walls on your right trying to stay either on trail and later mostly on slick rock. Soon you will see people hiking Park Avenue trail. Stay on a slick rock bench and this will eventually bring you to the start of the Park Avenue Trail and parking lot. You will see many tourists at the Park Avenue Viewpoint. Do not descend into a sandy wash - National Park does not want us to create new trails.
Different option for 4th rappel
The canyon is located inside Arches National Park - you have to pay park entrance fees (currently 25$ per vehicle, or 80$ for Annual National Park Pass).
The parking area is relatively large, but remember that Park Avenue is a popular trail. Even if all parking is taken, wait a little bit, people often just walk to the overlook and should not occupy parking spots for long.
Permit is required for canyoneering in Arches N.P. ! Click for information here.
You can obtain permit just outside Arches Visitor Center, it is well signed and easy to fill. The permit if free. You don't have to check in after completing your adventure.
Gear: harness, belay device, ascending gear is not a bad idea. One 60 meter rope (possibly 70 m)
We found all anchors all in good condition, but it is always a good idea to have extra webbing and slings.
Camera - the views are amazing.
Moab area offers plenty of opportunity for camping - click here
(just BLM maintains 24 campgrounds in Moab area).
Camping within Arches National Park click here
. All 50 sites in Arches campground are usually reserved in advance during the busy season (March through October).